Lifestyle

This M’sian Couple Went Bankrupt In Their 40s, Then They Built A Nationwide Fitness Club

Author’s Blurb: My only experience with any physical exercise was tennis training when I was younger and gym a few times a week for about 3 months during my final year in university. I generally won’t exercise unless I have friends who’ll join me, which usually means I end up not exercising at all. I don’t dislike exercising, I’m just too lazy to work out.

Karine just never liked sports at all, up until after her two pregnancies when she weighed 72kg and was looking to lose weight.

It was then that she began to get active, but it was challenging thanks to her new lifestyle with two children, financial difficulties, and high stress.

Her husband Ryan had always loved sports, being active to the point of representing Penang in a national karate competition during secondary school.

He supported and accompanied Karine on her fitness journey by exercising with her in the park every day, and this was a turning point in their lives.

Not only did Karine’s physical condition improve, but so did her emotional condition. People began following along on their simple dance fitness and light group exercises, and Ryan taught them all without any proper instructor certification.

Students would voluntarily offer some money (about RM5) every time they joined the group exercise, and a few months later, Ryan had saved enough money to go for a proper instructor certification course.

Thus, iconFIT Group Exercise was born in 2014 in KLCC Park.

Light At The End Of A Tunnel

Before iconFIT Group Exercise was a thing, Karine was a futures broker and Ryan ran his own education company.

However, due to a failure in their investment plan, they lost all their savings. They ended up buried in debts and sold their house, going to Agensi Kaunseling & Pengurusan Kredit (AKPK) for help.

After that, they stayed in a tiny 200 square feet storeroom with their young son and newborn daughter while Karine developed postpartum depression.

Ryan then shut down his company due to partnership issues, and they were left scraping by for food, rent and electricity as he sought better income opportunities.

Karine told Vulcan Post that it was a dark time for her, and that she had nearly ended her own life as well.

But they didn’t give up and managed to build iconFIT Group Exercise along the way, which Karine described as a blessing from God.

“Therefore, we have a very strong ‘why’ to build iconFIT Group Exercise right. We see situations of both men and women struggling today. We see the need of love and support for our modern world,” Karine said.

Believing that a healthy, active lifestyle and a supportive community would positively impact our nation, Karine and Ryan moved their exercises from the park to a simply furnished private club.

Image Credit: iconFIT Group Exercise

More than exercising, Karine described their sessions as gathering and caring for people. “Not only teaching them how to exercise, we built our club like a ‘home’. Students stay back to have fellowship. They come to the club to visit us even if they don’t exercise.”

That was how Karine and Ryan unknowingly built up their exercise club, going from a small park activity to a fitness brand with 29 clubs (of 100 to 200 students each) in 25 locations.

Working In Synergy

In running iconFIT Group Exercise, Karine and Ryan play various different roles.

Karine takes care of PR and marketing, operations, accounting, and HR, while Ryan acts as the key decision maker and carries out their group exercises, plans for new club openings, designs an education system for their coaches and club owners, trains their coaches the code of ethics in the fitness industry and how to train others, as well as designs iconFIT Group Exercise’s workout system for coaches to teach in class.

Despite the challenges of working together with their strong characters and hot tempers, some of the advantages she’s noticed about running a business with a spouse have been the strong trust and shared common goal, alongside how they complement each other with good teamwork and tacit support.

“Job scope-wise even though we seem like we split our duties, we actually work with a common goal to serve our community to be healthier and happier,” Karine shared.

“After many years of working together, we decided that only Ryan would be the key decision maker in order to have peace in our business, and it’s worked very well.”

Keeping Everyone Involved

At iconFIT Group Exercise, their students help out voluntarily, with senior students teaching new students the correct exercise positions.

After some time, some students express the desire to become a coach and to maybe even open a fitness club to serve the community.

So Karine and Ryan help them achieve those ambitions by arranging certification courses and training the students into becoming coaches, and later on potential club owners.

Image Credit: iconFIT Group Exercise

Almost 200 of their students have gone on to become coaches, and about 25 of them went on to become club owners.

Karine and Ryan’s mindset for running their fitness club is based on cultivating an all rounded healthy and active lifestyle in terms of body, mind and community.

It appears slightly different from what drives many of the newer boutique gyms that seem more aesthetics focused, so we asked the couple what their thoughts on these new gyms were.

Karine gracefully replied, “All are great, different clubs will serve different people. Only a small population of them want to train to be fitter or to get a perfect shape, the majority of us want healthy living.”

She believes that, similar to restaurants, we need variety to serve all kinds of customers, so she doesn’t see these boutique gyms as a threat to iconFIT Group Exercise’s philosophy.

Aside from enhancing their physical club model with exercise features from overseas, Karine and Ryan are looking to expand their online business model of virtual workout and self-care sessions rapidly too.

Bottom Line: It’s inspiring to see how the couple picked themselves back up and went on to create a fitness club that has impacted so many other Malaysians. While I won’t say that I’m now inclined to exercise, I believe that I’d be more open to starting my fitness journey in one of their welcoming classes as opposed to an intimidating gym.

  • You can read more on other fitness startups here.

Featured Image Credit: iconFIT Group Exercise

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